Busch not looking behind after symbolic win
DAYTONA BEACH — Kurt Busch did not look back as he rumbled about 150 miles an hour toward the finish line. He couldn’t. His rear-view mirror was broken as he closed in on the checkered flag in the Daytona 500.
But later on, in Victory Lane, his new bride helped put the journey — and all those bumpy roadblocks — in perspective.
“‘You know, it’s an omen that your mirror came apart because you’re not supposed to be looking in the rear-view mirror,” said Ashley, Busch’s wife since early January. “You’re supposed to be looking out front and what the future holds.”
Busch, finally allowing the big-picture scenario to sink in, reflected on her words during the traditional “Champion’s Breakfast” at Daytona International Speedway on Monday morning.
“That meant the most to me, more than anything in victory lane last night,” he said.
The ride has been rough at times for the veteran NASCAR people call “The Outlaw.” Busch didn’t compete in the 2015 Daytona 500 after NASCAR officials suspended him for adomestic-violence dispute.
Patricia Driscoll, his exgirlfriend, claimed that Busch had choked and beat her the previous year inside his motor home at Dover International Speedway. Charges were never filed, and Busch was reinstated in March 2015.
The relationship was a bit of a Crazy Town Hallmark movie, with Busch claiming that Driscoll told him shewas a trained assassin, and Driscoll countering that Busch had problems with alcohol and depression.
Driscoll was subsequently indicted in 2016 for allegedly stealing froma military charity. Busch has moved on, clearly on a redemptive path.
Now38, Busch has found a nice balance of professional and personal symmetry. Marriage has made him a happy man after a tumultuous ride. Winning the Daytona 500 for the first time in his career has made him appreciative of the journey.
“I’m a survivor just giving it my all,” Busch said.
Daytona’s 200-lap grind is simply a microcosm of Busch’s long road traveled. A bunch of cars wrecked on Sunday, sending people like his younger brother Kyle, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. home with cars in a scrap pile.
Busch’s No. 41 Ford took some hits, too, but pushed on, with man and machine receiving another fortuitous run of fate when Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson dropped out of the lead pack when their cars ran out of gas.
Busch was close to running on empty, too, and thought hewas done.
“I literally put my head against the headrest and said, ‘Please, don’t hit me too hard when you come zooming by,’ ” he said. “And then I crossed the line and you see all the flashbulbs going off in the grandstands heading down into the short chute, and that’s the moment that I knew. I don’t remember anything over the radio.”
The rest of the evening was a bit of a blur, too, as it always is for Daytona 500 champions.
He woke up Monday to 500 texts that he had not yet read, adding he was fortunate not to have set up voicemail on his new phone. He did manage to peek at a number of texts, including one from Mario Andretti.
“That meant theworld to me,” Busch said, later acknowledging texts from Michael Andretti and Marco Andretti as well — peer-group pride connected to Busch’s ride with Andretti Autosport in the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
But the best moment involved family. He called his mom Gaye on Sunday night. Through her tears, she was equally proud and relieved that Kurt and Kyle had found safe passage in the Daytona 500.
It had been particularly unsettling two years ago when Kyle suffered a double compound fracture in his right leg and a fracture of his left foot competing in an Xfinity Series race.
“She just always thought that Daytona and Talladega were the toughest on her boys and she just wanted us to come home safe, so when I called her I felt like I had placed the sword in the stone,” Busch said. “I said, ‘We’ve conquered it. We’ve conquered Daytona.’ ”
A champion forevermore. No need to look back again.
Kurt Busch celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 on Sunday night without his rearview mirror.
Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford got beat up along the way, but he still finished with his first Daytona 500 victory at the age of 38.
Chase Elliott (24) had the lead at the end until he ran out of gas, giving Kurt Busch his chance.